When fire departments reduce the time it takes to get out the door and to the scene, residents and businesses benefit.
Bainbridge Township Trustees last week received a review of department response times.
Fire Chief Lou Ann Metz said at the July 22 meeting that reducing response times has been one of her priorities and it has been a group effort of the entire department. Adding full-time staffing and increasing the staff has contributed to the improved response times, she noted.
“There are more people to handle the calls and we are not using mutual aid from other departments as much,” Chief Metz said. Other departments are busy as well and there are times when they are not available for mutual aid.
The national standard for turnout time is 80 seconds for fire calls. That is the time it takes for first responders to get out the door and to be on their way to a call. That time includes getting dressed for a fire call, Chief Metz said.
In 2018, the Bainbridge department was at 68 seconds for turnout time and in 2019 it is down to 65.42 seconds. “Our goal is 60 seconds or less,” she noted.
“Ninety percent of the time, you should be out the door in that time,” she said. Ice and snow and inclement weather can cause delays in getting to the emergency.
Turnout time is only the beginning. Response time includes the minutes it takes from the time the call comes in to when firefighters are on the scene of the emergency.
Bainbridge was at 5 minutes and 33 seconds in 2018 in response time, according to records. In 2019, it has been 5 minutes and 23 seconds. That is the average response time for all the calls, she said of fire and medical calls
“Everyone wants to be the fastest,” she said of the pride emergency workers have in responding to the calls. “It’s a friendly competition resulting in productive performance. No one wants to be at the bottom of the totem pole. They are pretty consistent and are steadily improving.”
Emergency responding is a risky process and fortunately the staff does a lot of training, Chief Metz said. “Some 73 percent of the calls are EMS and fires make up 27 percent of the calls.”
The better the response times, the better the insurance rates for residents and businesses for fire calls, Chief Metz said. The national standard for response time is 6 minutes or less for the first arriving truck. Bainbridge is under that amount, she noted.
The Insurance Service Office will be evaluating the township’s fire protection capabilities, which takes into account dispatch, water supply and response time in 2020. Water is 40 percent of the score with the fire department making up 50 percent of the score and dispatch is 10 percent.
“I’m hopeful the improved ISO rating will help residents with their home insurance costs,” she said. And if it helps businesses to save, they can reinvest in their businesses in the township, and attract new businesses as well. “Our goal is to provide the best fire protection to keep our residents safe and save money.”
The department has three full-time people and three part-time individuals on duty around the clock on each of the three shifts. There are never less than five people scheduled to work and that has helped, Chief Metz said. If it happens that everyone is out on calls, the department pages staff to come in to the station.
Shift staffing has to meet the multiple calls, she said. “We have had up to five calls in a couple of hours,” she said. The average EMS call takes about an hour and a half.
The increase in staffing gives a better chance to be ready to answer the calls. When she first came, there were three to four people on duty and they would have to call other departments when there was more than one call going on at the time, Chief Metz noted.
By having more people on duty and available for the calls, the need to call other departments decreases, she said. “We don’t use mutual aid anywhere near as much as in the past.”
As to part-time members, today it is very difficult in retaining them because they go on to full-time positions, Chief Metz said.
Every month, the department posts the average turn-out time and the response time for the year to date, she said. It is a good way to keep aware of how fast they are getting out the door and to the call.
The reason for increasing turn-out and response times is that a fire doubles every 30 seconds, and in two minutes a fire can be life threatening, Chief Metz said. “And new homes burn faster because they have so many synthetic materials and most have light weight truss construction.”
The synthetic materials burn hundreds of degrees hotter than a normal wood frame house, and the fire loss is greater. In a home of light-weight construction, the roof can collapse in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes in an attic fire. The smaller the dimension of the timber, the faster the fire spreads and the hotter it is, she said. Older homes have larger timbers and they will stand up a long time.
Firefighters don’t climb up on the roofs of those new homes as much because the danger is so great, she said. It has led to more use of aerial ladder trucks and Bainbridge has one. From that standpoint, it shows how important it is to get there quickly. “Getting out and getting to people is our business,” she said. “I focus on this all the time.”
In addition, the department serves some facilities with high volume calls. “As of June 30, we had 88 calls to the Weils (retirement community), which includes assisted living, and 48 to the Cleveland Clinic Bainbridge Urgent Care Center,” she said. Nine calls were to the South Franklin Circle assisted living facility. “Those three facilities take 25 percent of our calls,” Chief Metz said.
Adding to the improving turn-out time is the dispatch service provided by the Geauga County Sheriff’s office. The calls come up on a television screen in the station and those on duty drop what they are doing and start preparing. As one dispatcher talks to the person calling about an emergency, another enters the information into the computer and the information comes up in the fire station.
The call is paged out, and the firefighters or paramedics are already getting into the trucks, Chief Metz said. “It allows us to get a jump on getting out the door.
“The dispatch center is very busy and I’m amazed at how many calls they get. They do a great job,” she said. “That is a technical upgrade which is a benefit and we are aware of where the police are going.
“We’ll keep pushing until we get there faster,” Chief Metz said. “This is about being efficient and effective in our operations.” She added, “We can’t become complacent.”